Australian widower Kim Garbutt said she was "dumbfounded" when she received a double-digit cheque from AMP in death benefits associated with her estranged husband Craig's superannuation fund.
When Craig died in 2008, his family expected to receive more than $229,000. But that did not happen.
Instead, 13 days later Ms Garbutt received a cheque from AMP Australia for just $27.62.
"When the account arrived I was a bit dumbfounded," she told the ABC's 7.30 last night.
"Sometime after that, I spoke to them and they were saying basically the account had run dry.
"They went, 'So sad that he's died but too bad, the account's got no money in it.'"
Ms Garbutt, who has been seeking a resolution to her husband's case for a decade, eventually discovered that five months before Craig's death, the account was $233 in arrears and AMP had cancelled Craig's policy.
According to Kim Shaw, national head of superannuation and insurance at Maurice Blackburn, who has taken up Ms Garbutt's case, AMP failed to act in the best interests of her late husband.
She said the carve-out in the law, which went back 25 years, was "pretty amazing" and meant authorities were effectively powerless to take action against trustees who had broken the law.
"There are penalties elsewhere but with that particular best-interests provision there's not, and it's pretty astonishing, that's for sure," Ms Shaw told a joint investigation between The Australian and 7.30.
While authorities could not take any action against trustees breaking the laws, aggrieved super investors could launch their own legal action, an approach that is being taken by Ms Garbutt, The Australian reported.
"If a person was subject to a breach of the superannuation laws that relate to trustees acting in the best interests of their members, it still means that they can recover any loss incurred but they won't see a civil penalty or a criminal penalty against the superannuation trustee," Ms Shaw said.
Ms Shaw thinks AMP is in breach of those laws and is seeking to take action on behalf of Ms Garbutt.
Craig, the father of Ms Garbutt's two children, suffered from severe alcoholism and died aged just 39. The couple were only married a year before he died.
"Craig was super smart … he was funny, he liked to dress well," Ms Garbutt said.
"He wasn't ostentatious, he wasn't bombastic, he was just a nice, friendly guy.
"He was well-liked, he was well-loved."
She said Craig had sought help, including attending a rehab centre, but had ultimately been unable to kick his addiction.
"We were living on gifts," Ms Garbutt said.
She told 7.30 that Craig's business was bankrupt.
"He was in debt to what we think is $330,000 to $440,000 to maybe six or seven creditors. Phones had been cut off," she said.
Before his death, Craig had been living on friends' couches and out of his car, the ABC reported.
Ms Garbutt's investigations found Craig had rolled over $1,784.93 into the super account from his former fund in 2003, but within just five weeks, that balance had dropped to $1577.77 — after he was slugged more than $206 in fees and insurance premiums.
Craig didn't contribute a cent more to the account after his initial $1,784.93 contribution but continued to pay monthly death benefit premiums for six years.
According to the ABC, these premiums grew considerably over this period, including a jump of twice the rate of inflation in one year.
Despite Craig having made no further contributions to the fund, AMP continued to deduct fees and charges. Some were itemised but many were hidden.
Ms Garbutt said while AMP had written to her husband in the months before his death — warning him the fund was almost empty and would be cancelled — he was seriously unwell, not opening mail and for the most part and had no fixed address.
She tried to engage with AMP on compassionate grounds, but said the insurance giant refused to engage. She also failed to obtain any specific details about his superannuation and insurance policies since his death.
The ABC reported that an AMP spokeswoman "strongly rejects" any suggestion Ms Garbutt had not been kept informed by the company.
"At no time were we informed that (Craig) was unwell, and we corresponded with him as early as seven months before his death that he was at risk of losing his valuable insurance," an AMP spokeswoman said.
During 7.30, AMP said it paid over 95 per cent of all claims and allowed customers to reinstate lapsed policies for medical reasons, but not where the customer wanted to reinstate that policy to make a claim.
"I remember saying to AMP, 'I will give you the $233' and when I begged and pleaded to them, they said 'no, we told Craig it was going to be cancelled'."
"I went, 'Craig wasn't functioning, he wouldn't have read the letter'," Ms Garbutt told 7.30.